Tysinger keys strong Catawba season

  • Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 12:16 a.m.
Carley Tysinger has flourished for Catawba in her freshman season.
Carley Tysinger has flourished for Catawba in her freshman season.

SALISBURY — Catawba softball coach Nan Whitley jokes that freshman pitcher Carley Tysinger might not show up for practice if she knows she’s going to have to do an interview.

But Tysinger, who has a school-record 10 shutouts this season, proves friendly as a Wal-Mart greeter, laughs easily and doesn’t seem intimidating at all. But, then again, she’s sitting in the bleachers, not firing softballs from the circle. When she’s in that circle, that’s when what pitching coach Adrian Gantt refers to as a “chip on her shoulder” shows up.

Catawba is more than thrilled to have Tysinger, but talent-wise and skill-wise, she probably should be pitching in Division I right now. The velocity (mid-60s) is there. The competitiveness is there. The wicked arsenal of pitches is there. Her only negative, if you want to call it that, is that she’s 5-foot-4 and didn’t fit the D-I physical prototype.

But height isn’t everything. Bobby Shantz, a 5-foot-6 pitcher, was American League MVP back in the day. So was 5-6 shortstop Phil Rizzuto.

So Catawba got fortunate, and now the Indians have a great chance to win a lot of games for a lot of years and Tysinger should break a ton of records.

“She’s a tough athlete — mentally and physically,” Whitley said. “Totally focused when she pitches.”

Tysinger shrugs her shoulders about not being at a bigger school in a bigger city with bigger hype.

“I never really wanted big,” she said. “That’s not me. I love the Catawba campus, and classes with 20 students are a lot more me than classes with 400. I can talk to my teachers here. Plus, it’s really close to home.”

Home is Lexington. Tysinger starred at perennial 2A contender Central Davidson, right up the road from Salisbury, as a pitcher and outfielder. She was All-State multiple times and twice was the 2A West Pitcher of the Year.

Her first coach was her father, James. He taught her all he could, then found coaches who could continue the process.

“By the third grade, I knew that pitching is what I wanted to do for a long time,” Tysinger said.

In middle school, Tysinger met Gantt, and Gantt has worked with her for years. It’s clear that Tysinger is comfortable with Gantt, but Gantt takes no credit for recruiting her to Catawba.

“I stayed out of that,” Gantt said. “When I first heard Carley was coming here, it was unexpected, but I was excited about it. I knew she would be very good, but it’s still surprised me how how strong she’s gotten and how much speed she’s picked up as a freshman. When she pitches, she gets stronger as she goes.”

Catawba has had standout pitchers before. The school record book is filled with the names Lindsay Ettinger, an ironwoman who won 87 games and struck out 720 batters from 2004-07, and Jennifer Pittman, who posted a microscopic 0.97 ERA and threw 40 consecutive scoreless innings in 2000.

Still, assuming good health, Tysinger could break every record. She’s been the SAC’s best pitcher as a freshman. Her 22 wins are three more than anyone else in the league has. Her ERA is 1.11. The next best is 1.62. Her total of 272 strikeouts has shattered Ettinger’s school record for a season and is more than double the second-place figure in the SAC.

Where are all those strikeouts coming from? Movement or velocity?

“Both,” Gantt said with a smile. “Speed and nasty spin.”

Tysinger’s tool kit includes a screwball, dropball, riseball, curveball and changeup. She might fire one or two straight fastballs a game outside the strike zone just to show hitters something different or change their eye level. Catcher Tara Gibbs’ role is critical because she’s working with Tysinger and thinking along with her.

“Tara’s been a big factor and I’ve got confidence in her,” Tysinger said. “She knows what to call and when to call it. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

Most of the strikeouts early in the season were on riseballs that appeared to jump into a different time zone at the last instant.

“A lot of pitchers throw a high fastball and believe it’s a riseball, but Carley’s got that true riseball,” Whitley said.

As word spread around the SAC to lay off the riseball, good hitters made adjustments. So now Tysinger is striking out people with drops.

“A lot of times they’ve been looking for me to keep going up the ladder,” Tysinger said. “The last thing they’re looking for is something going down.”

Catawba (28-16, 9-7 SAC) has had powerful hitting teams in the past, but this is a pitching-and-defense club that has scratched for runs. That explains why Tysinger has seven losses. In a 1-0 defeat, she threw a no-hitter.

Catawba plays doubleheaders. The basic plan has been for Tysinger to pitch the opener and to relieve in the nightcap.

Her biggest test stamina-wise came recently as Catawba swept two games at Mars Hill. She won the first game 2-0 with a routine four-hitter with nine strikeouts. But in the nightcap, instead of relieving in the fifth or sixth, she was called on in the first after the Lions scored two quick runs. She pitched the rest of the way, and Gibbs and Holli Chandler homered in a 7-3 comeback win.

By all accounts, the strike zone did not include corners at Mars Hill, and Tysinger wound up throwing — are you ready for this — 257 pitches.

“I got tired and it was a really tough day, but I needed to be strong for my teammates,” Tysinger said.

The Indians will host Newberry this Saturday. It will be Senior Day, but the Indians, who also will host next week’s SAC tournament, will count heavily on an extraordinary freshman.

“The biggest thing about me is I hate losing,” Tysinger said. “Even if someone gets a hit, I’m still telling myself there’s no way I’m going to let them score.”

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